Our Lean philosophy is composed of two parts: people and process, the human system and the technical system. Both are encompassed by the daily process of continuous improvement that is the essence of Lean, described by the Japanese “Kaizen”. In the sense of continuity and human development Kaizen is the “never ending betterment of the self”. In the context of technical improvement, what people do to processes, it translates as “change for the better”. For us, this is the relentless pursuit of perfection, embodied by pursuing zero defects and perfecting flow to achieve minimum lead times.

A Jishuken is a Kaizen activity or improvement workshop that brings together these two aspects of Lean. It means “self-mastery by research”. A small team focus for a week on improving one part of a value stream or a business area. The team is made up of Lean leaders, subject matter experts and other team members who have an outside view to contribute to the goal.

Jishuken in Japanese

It is guided by management but not led by it; the key to the leader’s role is the hands-on involvement, learning to really see, that helps them to improve their coaching skills and leverage the power of people. It is a way for management to truly show people that people’s opinions matter as they are willing to listen to them for an entire week. Management has no other commitments or meetings, just 100% focus on people.

The power of Jishuken practice lies in learning and in building culture, because people drive transformation. This is the foundation of a Lean company and the foundational goal of a Jishuken. The biggest gains are in cultivating human growth, learning opportunities and positive culture changes. When done systematically and well it produces significant productivity and financial results too. To paraphrase one of my sensei, George Koenigsaecker, it is about designing a system that motivates people to want to improve, teaches them the tools of improvement, and empowers them to apply those tools every day to make a difference.

George refers to Jishuken events as the benchmark of successful Lean business transformations. We have held Jishukens for a few years now, but not regularly enough as it takes a lot of discipline. We are now building our practice because we know that it is our biggest and most powerful tool in human development. It is fueling our Lean journey so that we can grow and deliver more value to our customers. After all, we are building a learning organization.

For wisdom and insight on Lean transformations from a leadership perspective, check out George Koenigsaecker’s book, The Lean Enterprise Transformation.

– Frank, CEO –